"...bringing millions of people to one website to receive an education of their choice.” - Shai Reshef (founder of the University of the People)
By Yashivan Govender
In a planet where problems are a many and a shortage of solutions it is difficult to imagine the grinding to a halt of the world as we know it and the sparking of a new direction…
10:30am – after juggling my phone connection I manage to get in touch with Shai Reshef, he is in New York and I am in Bavaria. The time difference is six hours - in my favour! Perhaps waking up early is an ingredient to solving the planet’s problems. But perhaps it is one of many ingredients I soon find myself thinking.
Shai has a warm comforting voice on the phone. He tells me that this is due to his two double espressos which greet him eagerly in the early hours of the day. I feel bad at this stage for disturbing him so early in the morning but he is kind enough to reassure me that it is all part of being who he is. In 2009 Shai founded the University of the People – at the time a ground-breaking idea and currently a much needed platform. By creating an education platform that is tuition-free and easily accessible, Shai has managed to engineer a monster within the World Wide Web into a system that can now galvanise the planet in a friendly manner.
Shai explains the concept of the University of the People, “It is a democracy for higher education, bringing millions of people to one website to receive an education of their choice.”
He further explains that with the current economic climate, the world cannot afford to educate the planet at the rate that is required. Therefore he justifies the concept of an online university as one which is supported by open source and social media powered platforms. The brains trust of the University is built on academic experts from around the planet and is solidly supported by key global sponsors who share the same vision for education as a whole.
“The courses are tuition-free. There is a fee to process exams and we have created substantial funding programs for students who still cannot afford to finance their exams,” Shai explains.
He has described a perfect online education platform – check that: the quintessential online platform. We both agree that young individuals need to be able to access an education – to be able to empower themselves with knowledge. At the same time we also assert that the concept of practicality and how real world experience is a learning concept that is so greatly underestimated in an academic climate.
“The University of the People has put together (with the aid of some of its sponsors) follow- through, practical and internship programs. Allowing students to engage the knowledge they have developed in a proper work-like environment,” says Shai.
He has a background in education bolstered by a career journey that has trailed a path around the planet with Europe being a centre-point. His contribution in the development of online learning infrastructures has rather been admirable - because so many have thought of such an idea but failed to implement it. But this project illustrates the enthusiasm behind the rewards of hard work. Through an already extensive career, one can sense that Shai will be still contributing a lot more to the planet in years to come.
While currently in the process of applying for accreditation, the University of The People, still has managed to create a credible setup with logical partnerships, affiliations, sponsorships and academic staff. So much so that it has expanded its reach outside via the Internet into the real world, with places like Haiti having established student learning centres for the university.
“I saw hope in the Haitian students’ eyes, it justifies and makes this project all that more worthwhile,” says Shai on his experience of visiting Haiti after its recent earthquake and the establishment of the centres.
It is hard to believe that some people can question hope or find odds with an impactful – meaningful solution. But it does exist, there will always be challenges not only for concepts like the University of The People but for the planet itself. But with global champions like Shai Reshef these challenges now seem a lot simpler to overcome.
Our conversation steers in various directions and even the time difference becomes a thing of the past. I begin to imagine how New York - a city that never sleeps, now beginning to roar into daylight as Bayern slowly creeps into a midday passage of sorts.
As our dialogue ends well after the allocated time frame I realise that there is a lot happening on the planet that I still need to discover and explore. As with this “open university”, I now fully understand the ideology that Shai has put together. The planet will definitely not grind to a halt - well not yet anyway. With ideas, solutions and implementations, especially with examples such as Shai Reshef and his all encompassing University of The People there is hope for the planet yet. He has not only ignited a true global solution but has added a much needed focus to the current direction the planet should be moving in – a direction that we all share!
About: Shai Reshef tweets here @shaireshef - visit the University of the People